When you meet someone and they ask what your nonprofit does, what do you say?
If you’re like most people, it sounds something like this:
“We’re a 501c3 nonprofit providing rescue services to at-risk populations in blah, blah, jargon, jargon, acronym, acronym, blah, blah…..”
Your listener tuned out about 2 seconds in.
Being able to clearly describe what your nonprofit does is crucial to catching people’s attention, raising funds and gathering support.
Unfortunately, most people haven’t taken the time to refine their message.
Instead of sharing something that stirs the listener’s heart and soul, they regurgitate a long, boring, memorized spiel that’s way too focused on the organization. It’s “us, us, us, we, we, we.” It’s ego-centric and it doesn’t work.
Seriously, who wants to hear that?
If you’re ready to raise big bucks deepen donor relationships, you need something better to say.
People need to understand what you do and it needs to strike a chord in their heart before they’ll reach for their wallet.
The 6 Word Attention Grabber
Here’s an exercise I often do in workshops.
Think about what you say when someone asks “What does your nonprofit do?” Grab a pen and jot it down.
Be sure to make it conversational and easy to understand.
Okay, got it?
Now, go back through it, and strip out all the jargon and acronyms. Rewrite it without all that mess.
Got something simple that anyone can understand?
Great. Now, try it again, and use half the number of words.
If you’re sucking in air, I understand.
It’s not as easy as it sounds to be brief.
In fact, it’s hard work to create something concise and inspiring to say.
Mark Twain, the great American writer, knew this. In fact, he said “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I’m ready today. If you want a
5-minute speech, I’ll need two weeks to prepare.”
How much time are you currently spending preparing the words you share with donors and prospects?
If you’re like most people, you aren’t spending any time at all. You’re using whatever pops you’re your head at the moment. You’re quickly stringing words together just so you can be done and move on to the next thing.
If you’re lucky, it resonates with your audience. If not, you’re boring them to tears.
Hmmm. Might need to spend a little more time on it, huh?
Back to the exercise. Got your half-sized introduction?
Good. Cut it down to just 6 words. I’m serious!
These 6 words will help you bridge the heart-wallet connection.
It’s a great exercise to engage your brain and think about it in a new way.
Remember that these 6 words don’t have to tell everything your nonprofit does. They just need to grab someone’s attention and engage their interest.
Real Life Example
I remember once speaking in a large room of about 200 people, when this lady way in the back raised her hand and said “Our cause isn’t sexy. We’re not like the food bank or the animal shelter.”
I said “Ok. What does your nonprofit do?”
She started in with “We’re a 501c3 medical facility conducting research blah, blah, blah.” About 5 minutes later, I stopped her and said “Try again and leave out all the jargon.”
She tried again and it was better, but still too thick and hard to understand.
“Pretend I’m a 6-year old kid. How would you explain it to me?”
“Oh. We do research on the brain.”
Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. So I asked “What are you trying to accomplish with your research?”
And she began again with the medical terminology and acronyms.
“Stop. I’m 6 remember? What will the research do?”
“Oh. We’re hoping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.”
The entire room sucked in a gasp.
I looked at her and said “You’re working on a cure for Alzheimer’s and you don’t think that’s sexy??”
I’m guessing her problem was that she thought she needed to use the medical terminology to accurately explain the mission, and unfortunately it was turning people off.
I bet her messaging was dramatically different after that workshop!
Being able to clearly and concisely describe what you do will draw supporters to you like flies to honey. Using big words they don’t understand is like dousing them in vinegar.
When you’re meeting prospects, memorized mission statements don’t work.
They’re not nearly strong enough.
When you’re trying to cut through the noise and say something to grab people by the heartstrings, remember to keep it conversational, jargon free, and easy to understand.
And be concise. The longer you drone on, the more you lose people.
Every word counts. Choose them carefully.
Inspiring your donors to give is important.
Inspiring yourself and staying motivated is, too.
Let’s face it – fundraising isn’t easy. Some days, it’s downright hard.
You’ve got more to do than you can get done, and there’s always someone asking why you can’t raise more money.
I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.
I remember the days of working my booty off to get things done, and some well-meaning Board member would call with a “great idea” for me. Yeah. Good times.
The important thing is to know what stokes the fire of your heart, especially on days when you feel like throwing in the towel.
For me, it’s about visiting the front line of the organization. That always rejuices me.
But there’s this thing called balance. And we need it to be our best.
That means doing things outside of work that feed your creativity.
For me that includes gardening, horseback riding, and quilting.
Not sure what those might be for you?
Here’s a list of 50 ways to get inspired from my friend (and former client) Tammy Johnson. Tammy now runs Female Idea Tank and graciously gave me permission to share these ideas with you.
Try something new. Get going and have fun!
1. Do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone
2. Make a new music playlist
3. Play a game
4. Paint a picture
5. Look up inspirational quotes on Pinterest6. Fulfill a childhood dream
7. Make something with your hands
8. Ask someone you see today what they’re grateful for
9. Learn a craft10. Take a bath
12. Declutter one area of your home
13. Go to a live concert
14. Take a break
15. Go to a workshop, seminar, conference or retreat
16. Take pictures
17. Watch TED talks about creativity
18. Write a letter to your 70 year old self
19. Write a letter to your teenage self
20. Start a creative “me time” journal
21. Redecorate a room
22. Join a choir or singing group
23. Read some inspiring blogs
24. Go for a drive
25. Make a dream board
26. Do some drawing
28. Experiment with makeup
29. Get a coloring book
30. Take a nap
31. Throw a party
32. Get outside
33. Turn off the TV
35. Keep a sketchbook
36. Write a poem
37. Sing a song
39. Watch a video of a baby laughing
40. Go for a walk
41. Try something new
42. Write a bucket list
43. Listen to music that moves you
44. Disconnect for a while
45. Watch an inspirational video
46. Give yourself a pressure-free day
47. Sing in the shower
48. Thank a mentor
49. Start a new good habit
50. Live like you mean it
There will never be a better time to do something to get inspired than now!
Take action and head into the second-half of the year with renewed momentum.
If you want money coming in consistently throughout the year, you need a big, loyal donor base of people who love your mission and want to see you win.
Once you build that donor base, your job is to engage and inspire them.
Inspiration is about connecting with them on an emotional level.
In practical terms, it’s about staying in touch with them and sharing about the good work your organization is doing.
The absolute easiest way to do that is to tell a heart-grabbing story.
A heart-grabbing story is the easiest way to illustrate what your programs accomplish and help the donor feel something (compassion, anger, hope, etc.).
The right story will grab the donor by the heart strings and fill them with concern and optimism: concern for the life being changed and optimism that change is possible.
Here are some other reasons why you need good stories:
- Straight facts and details are boring. You ever tried to read a financial statement? Does it make you want to give? Thought not.
- Stories engage people emotionally. A good story hits us right where we feel life most: our heart. Since giving is an emotional act, it makes sense to connect emotionally before asking.
- We’re conditioned for stories. Since we were small, we’ve loved stories, whether they were read to us or shown in a movie. Heck, think about how hard it is to get tickets the first weekend of a great movie. Everyone loves a good story.
Here’s the truth: Your mission statement alone will NEVER inspire someone to make a game-changing gift to your nonprofit. It takes a story to do that.
What makes a story heart-grabbing?
Boring stories don’t move people to give. Neither do stories that ramble and don’t really have a point.
So, your stories need to be concise and easy to read (no jargon).
The best story model to use is the “Before and After.”
It’s pretty simple really: Start the story by telling what life was like before the person/animal came to your nonprofit, and then tell about what their life is like now.
Renee was scared. A thunderstorm was about to roll through town. She sighed and loaded up her kids in the car to drive to Wal Mart.
There wasn’t anything she needed to buy – she just needed a safe place to stay until the storm blew over.
You see, her small trailer didn’t feel safe. Every time the thunder boomed, her windows rattled. The sheets of rain seeped in around the leaky roof, and Renee was scared that the next gust of wind might blow the place down around her. It was like this every time a storm blew in.
She needed a better place to live, but didn’t know how to make it happen on her meager income. Then she heard about Habitat for Humanity.
She immediately signed up and began working toward her own home. She learned how to budget money for home repairs and spent hours putting in “sweat equity.” After many months of waiting and working, the big day finally came, and she couldn’t believe it as she stood on the porch and looked inside. Tears shone in her eyes as they handed her the keys to her new home – safe and solid, able to withstand any storm.
Notice how you feel after reading that story. Do you like the happy ending or the face that she had to work to reach her goals? Is there something else that draws you in?
Note that there’s not much said about the organization or their program. There’s nothing about how many people are served or the staff’s credentials.
You may want to give people more information, but they don’t need it. People want to know about the lives being changed, not how you do it. Focus on impact and outcomes, not programs and process.
Story collection tips
Collecting good stories can take some time. I suggest you set aside a few days to find some good ones, then write them up and put them in a story library so you have them later when you need them. (I used to do this once or twice a year and I always had plenty of good stories.)
Here are a few tips for collecting stories:
- Ask your coworkers what they’ve seen lately that broke their heart. Don’t ask for a story – they don’t think about it the same way you do and won’t give you what you’re looking for. Also, be prepared to write it up yourself. They won’t have time and won’t understand how to put a story into the format you need. I used to go have lunch with the program staff and ask them to update me on the latest thing happening. That was usually enough to get them started talking.
- Have a story contest and see which staff person or volunteer can give you the best story. Give prizes to the winners (Starbucks card, etc.). Again, be prepared to write these up yourself or edit anything you’re given in writing.
- Spend time on the front lines of your organization and get the stories for yourself. Talk to people using your nonprofit’s services and ask them to share with you. Not everyone will be willing, but you’ll find a few who are. Be respectful and gentle as you ask questions – some people may have some strong emotions about using your nonprofit’s services, and like a physician, you should do no harm in this process.
Once you share a story, listen for feedback. Notice if someone mentions the story when you bump into them in the community, or if a donor emails you. I’ve seen donors tuck a note in an envelope with their check with a comment about a story.
When you start getting feedback like that and you see donations go up, you know you’re doing it right, and that you’ve engaged and inspired your donors.
Your thank-you letter is like an electric power tool, just waiting to be used.
If you’re like most nonprofits, your tool isn’t fully charged and doesn’t give you the results you’re looking for. It’s missing the mark, like a drill not fully capable of creating a hole.
If you want to build relationships with donors so you can fully fund your budget, you need a fully-charged drill that powerfully does its job.
You need a powerful thank you letter.
A more powerful letter
It’s not that hard to tweak your letter so that it has more impact and becomes the powerful tool you need it to be.
First, it needs to be warm, sincere, and prompt. It needs to include the right piecesso that it connects with the donor.
And it needs to contain a story.
Thank-you letter makeover
Recently, I helped the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians to do just that.
Here’s a look at the letter they had. It’s not a bad letter and it hits all the right points. The copy is good and it’s on brand.
What I don’t like about this letter is that it’s predictable. It sounds like letters from lots of other nonprofits, and that’s a bad thing. Your ultimate goal is for your letter to stand out so that donors feel something when they read it.
As a donor, if I read the first paragraph or so and it feels like all the other letters I get, I stop reading, because I know what’s coming. It’s more of the same, and I don’t want to waste my time. That’s a little harsh, but I think most people are that way.
Here’s the truth: If your letter doesn’t grab people from the get-go, chances are good that your donors aren’t reading it. So how effective is that letter in building a relationship with that donor?
The Girl Scout staff and I set out to jazz up their letter and add some emotional punch to it. We picked a story that was easy to love, and added a photo of the girl. We also added a quote from the girl to make more heart-centered.
Here’s the result:
At a glance, you can see how there’s more pizzazz with that photo, and that the letter is short, with just a few short paragraphs. That means it doesn’t look hard to read. This is an important point – people won’t read anything that looks like work to read.
The new letter starts strong. Instead of the letter starting
“On behalf of the many Girl Scouts and volunteers who will benefit from your generosity…”
“Thanks to you, Mansi is learning how service impacts more lives than just those being served.”
That’s a MUCH better start, wouldn’t you agree? It’s hooky and makes me as the reader curious to find out who Mansi is and what this means.
The story in this letter is a good one and it’s well told. We didn’t go on for paragraphs and paragraphs trying to fit in all kinds of details. Only the important pieces were included, and the story serves its purpose well.
There are several more really good things about this letter:
Now, the Girl Scouts have this great letter and will use it for a few weeks. As part of our Donor Acknowledgement Plan, they’ll change this letter up monthly to make sure that there’s always a fresh one ready to go.
Changing your standard thank-you letter monthly is especially important when you have donors making multiple gifts each year. You don’t want them getting the same old letter every time, do you? What message does that send?
Imagine if they give 3 times during the year, and get to read 3 different heart-warming stories about the work your nonprofit is doing. That’s donor-focused and will definitely positively charge how they feel about their experience.
And that’s a good thing.
What can you take away from this Thank-You Letter makeover to make YOUR letter better?
It takes a lot of work to get new donors.
There’s planning and marketing. Some speaking gigs and media exposure. Or maybe a friendraising event.
Regardless of how you get them, you work hard to get new people into your family of supporters.
So, why not spend an equal amount of time working to keep them?
Why donor retention feels hard
If you had plenty of time to slow down and think, and maybe work at a reasonable pace, lots of things would feel different and probably less overwhelming.
When you’re moving at the speed of light, trying to check things off your list as fast as you can, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important.
Here’s why I think donor retention feels hard :
Keeping happy donors isn’t top of mind for you. Money is.
And you need to flip that.
Focus on the person and the relationship first, not their wallet.
Think about it from the donor’s perspective. What would make her want to stick around and give again?
(If you really want to get inside her head, practice being a donor yourself. )
You have to understand that donors today are more savvy. They know good fundraising when they see it.
They’re tired of being just a number in your database.
They’re tired of the relentless requests for money. And the endless event invitations.
Frankly, they’re tired of you showing up all the time with your hand out for money without appreciating them in return.
They expect more. They want to see a good return on their investment in your organization.
Want to be crazy-successful in your fundraising? Pay attention to what your donors want and give it to them. Inspire them and help them feel good about giving.
It just makes sense to cater to the source of your funding, doesn’t it?
Keep Donors Giving
It’s really not that hard to keep donors giving. Just make them happy and give them what they want.
Here’s are 4 keys to keeping donors happy and keeping them giving:
1. They want to be thanked and appreciated. Thank donors warmly, sincerely, and promptly, every time, no matter the amount they gave. Thanking donors well is the first step in wrapping up the current gift cycle and starting the next one. Do a good job of thanking donors and they’ll be very likely to give again. Think about it for yourself: Have you ever gone out of your way to do something for someone, and then not been thanked? It doesn’t feel good, does it? And you don’t usually feel like helping that person again. So, don’t be that person to your donor – thank your donors well.
2. They want to feel good about their giving experience. People like to feel smart about their choices and donors are no different. They want to know they made a good decision to give to you and that you’ll do great things with their money. No one wants to make a donation, then worry that they just wasted their money. A prompt, meaningful thank-you will help create this experience.
3. They want to know how you used their money. No matter how much they gave, they want to know that you put it to work, and that it’s being used to change lives, especially if you told them it would. Give donors meaningful information about what happened after they gave. Tell them a story about someone whose life has been changed for good by your nonprofit’s work. In a nutshell – follow up after the gift. Don’t leave them wondering what happened.
4. They want to trust your nonprofit. Building trust is about building relationships. It’s about getting to know your donors and speaking their language. It’s about focusing on helping them get what they want so you can get what you want. It’s NOT about spewing information at them or bragging about how great your organization is.
What doesn’t work
I see lots of nonprofit folks boring their donors to tears. How? They’re very ego-centric in their communications.
That means they write about what’s important to THEM, not what’s important to the donor.
Here are a few examples of things your donors just don’t care about (sorry!):
- “It’s our 20th anniversary”
- “We’re the oldest/biggest/bestest (fill-in-the-blank) nonprofit doing this work”
- “We’re fully credentialed”
- “Our staff is very experienced”
- “We cover a big area: we have 10 programs in 20 counties”
Your donors expect you to have good staff and be around for the long haul.
They expect you to do good work. Using those points as pieces in your newsletter or reasons for an event, and you will be seriously disappointed.
What DOES work
Here are a few examples of things that DO work to make donors feel good, give them what they want, and get them on the road to giving again:
- Write and send a powerful thank you letter that’s warm and sincere. Get a paper letter back in the mail within 48 hours. Send an email receipt immediately if they gift was given electronically.
- Make a thank you call. Call the donor to personally thank them for their gift. I know you think this is a lot of work, but truly there’s no better use of your time than thanking a donor. If you want help, enlist a couple of Board members to make these calls. Even if you have to leave a message, it lets the donor know you care, and that is powerful.
- Shoot and send a thank-you video. This is SO easy to do! Use your smart phone, hit the button and sincerely thank the donor. Load the video onto YouTube (make it unlisted unless you want everyone to see it), then email the donor the link. Personalize the video (say their name) for best results.
- Stay in touch. Newsletters are the best way to keep the communication going. Unfortunately, most nonprofit newsletters are crap. They’re ego-centric, irrelevant to the donor and full of junk no one cares about except the person writing it. So, make it interesting to the reader and keep it SHORT. Remember that your email newsletter is probably being read on a mobile device, which means attention spans are super short and screens are tiny.
To win the donor’s heart and keep them giving, your job is to give them what they want. And to do that, you need to carve out the time to think about what that is and do a good job of creating it for them.
I was so honored to speak at Planet Philanthropy recently about Fundraising for Introverts.
I’m an introvert. No, really, I am. There are a fair number of us working in development who aren’t all that outgoing, and the nuggets I shared seemed to really strike a chord, so I thought I’d share some of my presentation with you.
Even if you’re not an introvert, chances are good you’ve got some on your Board or on your volunteer list, and understanding how they tick will help you support them to be successful.
First, we have to understand what being an introvert is and isn’t.
Introvert or not?
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy. Being shy is different, along with a whole lot of other attributes you may have, and these complicate things. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t like people or that you’re stuck up. It just means you get your energy from alone time.
Personally, I find that being in big crowds for too long really zaps my energy. So does a lot of noise and commotion. I think that’s one reason why I’m not a big fan of rock concerts or sporting events. I’d much rather enjoy those from my couch, where there’s no line at the concession stand or the bathroom.
We typically think of an extrovert as someone very outgoing and talkative, the veritable life of the party, where introverts are the wallflowers of the world. True enough for me – at a party or a networking event, I’m likely to be on the periphery having a meaningful conversation with one person, not mixing and mingling to meet everyone.
The truth is that extroverts get their energy from being around people where introverts gotta have alone time to recharge. If an extrovert also craves attention or let’s their ego guide them, they’re likely to want the spotlight.
Likewise, an introvert who is also shy and unsure of themselves or a perfectionist isn’t very likely to put themselves out there or take on a leadership role.
Introvert, extrovert or ambivert?
There’s actually a new category of ‘vert – the ambivert.
Very few people are 100% introvert or extrovert. We all have a little of both in us.
If you put these on a spectrum, most people fit somewhere in the middle, in a zone called ambivert.
For example, you may be an outgoing introvert. You like talking with people as long as you have plenty of quiet time. Or maybe you’re fine being with people as long as they’re people you know and like – you just don’t like being with strangers.
You can take the quiz to see where you fit on the spectrum atwww.lonerwolf.com.
Introverts as Fundraisers
Whether you’re truly an introvert or just have some introverted tendencies, you need to raise money. And being with people is a critical part of donor-based fundraising.
Let’s look at the various fundraising strategies and what it takes to be successful.
||Direct appeal, grants, monthly giving
||Personal asks, major gifts, planned giving
||Social media, news media, newsletters, Giving Tuesday, text-to-give
||Events, speaking gigs
||From your desk
Most introverts either do fundraising from their desk or anything that’s 1-to-many, depending on their strengths. There’s nothing wrong with either, but the big money is in the upper right corner, which can be very scary for introverts, especially those who are fearful about asking or are avoiding rejection.
The trick is in stretching. If your comfort zone is the lower left corner, the best thing you can do is learn to stretch up to direct appeals, grants, and monthly giving, or stretch to the right to events and speaking gigs.
It’s close to impossible to stretch from the lower left corner to the upper right. It’s just too far outside your comfort zone. The only way you’ll be successful is to have the support or a mentor or coach.
By the way, most Board members operate in that lower left box. This is why they all disappear when you ask them to ask their friends for money. It’s too big of a stretch for them.
So, how do you stretch?
Stretching outside the comfort zone
If you’re a runner or have ever seen a runner warm up, you know that stretching comes first. It loosens up the muscles, prepares you for the activity, and helps you avoid injury.
You need the same thing as a fundraiser.
Start by identifying your strengths. What are you really good at?
If you’re a great writer, then you’re probably doing direct appeal, grants, newsletters, and such. You might be able to stretch into some speaking gigs if you can tell stories as well as you write them. Starting with a small civic club or church group might be a great way to get your feet wet.
Or, if you’re ready to stretch into that upper right box of personal asks, start by just spending time with one of your top donors. Invite them to coffee and ask for their advice about a program or project. Bring them in for a tour of your facility so they can see first-hand what’s happening. These are pretty low-risk activities that actually can pay big dividends in building relationships.
My default as an introverted fundraiser was to get really good at the stuff I could do from my desk, behind my computer. First, I mastered grants, then I got really good at direct mail. But I knew at some point I needed to start cultivating major donors. And that thought terrified me.
But after attending conferences and hearing about best practices, I knew I needed to start getting face-to-face with donors. So I called one of my biggest donors and asked her to lunch. She said “yes” and I had another panic attack – I didn’t know what I was supposed to do at the lunch. The good news is that I survived it. I’m sure it wasn’t the smoothest donor experience she’d ever had, but it was a great learning experience for me. And boy was it a big stretch for me!
Interestingly, after stretching like that once, it was easier to do it the second time.
Here are some ideas for activities that might just stretch you outside your comfort zone:
- Hand-written note
- Birthday card
- Thank-you call
- Personal thank-you video
- Personal tour of your facility
- Meet for coffee
- Meet for lunch
- Special invite to an event
- Advice visit
The key to stretching is to purposefully do something that you wouldn’t normally do, to move you in the direction of your goals. And if you do it consistently, you’ll raise more money.
The most common complaint I hear from people trying to raise money is that they don’t have enough time.
“There aren’t enough hours in the day”
“I can’t get everything done”
“I’m just one person”
“How do those other nonprofits get it all done?”
Here’s some good news: you’ll never get it all done.
That’s right – you’ll never get everything done that’s currently on your list, so let it go, Elsa.
Instead of trying to get it ALL done, focus on getting the RIGHT things done.
That’s a big, game-changing difference. And it’s good news for those of us who feel the pressure to do it all.
The key is to focus on the things that will move you faster toward your goals.
While you think about that, let me give you some practical advice to recover lost time during the day.
Here are 10 common time wasters in fundraising along with some ideas to overcome them.
How many beeps, bells, and whistles are blaring at you in a typical hour?
(Maybe even as you’re reading this!). You know what those are? They’re a Giant Distraction. So, turn them off. They’re interrupting you, which causes you to need up to 500x the amount of time to get things done.
When you need to get something important done, turn off your phone and shut down your email so you can concentrate for a little bit. If anything major happens in the world, someone will come tell you. You’ll be way more productive when your focus isn’t interrupted by all the bings and buzzes.
I find that not only do the alerts break my focus, but I get really irritable. So, if you’re the person I talk to at 3 o’clock after I’ve been trying all day to get something done, and I don’t exactly sound happy, that’s probably what’s going on for me. I bet I’m not alone – I bet this happens to you, too.
Stop the interruptions, turn off the alerts, and reclaim your focus.
2. Social Media Black Hole
Is this you? You log on to Facebook just to “check in” and 2 hours later you’re watching a video of a cat in a shark costume riding a vacuum cleaner.
Social media is a great tool for connecting and communicating, but it can also suck a lot of your time and attention.
You don’t need to constantly update your status or lurk around to see what other people are up to. Honestly, I find that the more time I spend on social media, the worse I feel. Between the negative political rants, people posting their amazing vacation pictures (which leave me with trip envy), and all the other craziness, it all starts to drag me down.
Here’s what you can do to not get lost in the social media black hole: have a plan.
Know which social media platforms you want to use, what days/times you’ll post, and what content you’ll post. Then when you log on, you should be able to post, comment on a few things and respond to messages in just a few minutes. If you stay online any longer than that, you’re playing. Nothing wrong with playing, just don’t do it on work time when you need to be getting other things done.
If you’re not sure you can trust yourself, set a timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Easy, peasy.
3. Unprepared Volunteers
A common solution for getting more done is to recruit a volunteer. After all, volunteers are great – they give their time and help get things done.
Actually, they’re only productive if you set them up for success. If you expect them to figure out what needs to be done themselves, you’re going to be disappointed.
So, get organized. Have a job description before you recruit a volunteer. Find the right volunteer for the job, whose interests and skills match the job you need done. Orient them. Train them. Support them. Celebrate their wins and eat chocolate together.
You’ll both be happier and more productive.
4. Grant Blasts
It’s so tempting.
You get one good grant written, and you think that if you just send it out to as many foundations as possible, you’ll increase your chances of actually getting one.
But, it doesn’t work that way.
Getting grants is all about matching up your organization’s needs with the foundation’s interests. No match = no grant.
Blasting out a proposal to 10 or 20 foundations without customizing it is a waste of time. So is assuming that every foundation will want to fund your programs.
Take the time to do the research. Make the initial phone calls. Customize the proposal to show how your program fits the foundation’s interests.
You’ll increase your odds of getting money. And may the odds be ever in your favor.
5. Board mass request
I bet you’ve done this:
You email your entire Board to ask them to help you with something. Maybe you’re asking each one of them to give you 5 names to send an appeal to. Or you’re asking each one of them to come up with a sponsor for an event.
You hit “Send” and wait.
They don’t respond.
It’s a waste of time to treat your Board as a group. Treat them as individuals and watch what happens. You’ll get more response.
There’s a weird group dynamic that happens when you ask them all for something either in a meeting or in an email. Some people think someone else will respond. Or they think since there are so many Board members, you won’t notice if they don’t respond. Or they think you don’t mean them. Or they have some other reason. The bottom line is that they feel no sense of urgency to respond.
Email them one at a time and ask for their help. Better yet, pick up the phone and call. It’ll take a little time, but you’ll get the result you’re looking for.
6. Cold calling the Chamber list
It seems like a good idea, but it’s not.
You’ll never mail (or email) the entire list from the local Chamber of Commerce and get sponsors.
It’s a cold call. When’s the last time you responded to a cold call?
You’ve got better opportunities and lower-hanging fruit.
7. Wordsmithing an appeal.
This one’s my favorite (insert eye roll here).
You can spend a LOT of time trying to get the words in an appeal just right. And most of that time will be wasted.
Most people don’t read fundraising letters. They skim.
They’ll read the salutation, skim headlines, quotes, photo captions, then read the ps.
Finally, they’ll look at the reply card, and if anything has grabbed their attention, they’ll think about giving.
Trust me, they’re not reading the whole letter (mostly because they’ve been trained through experience that fundraising letters are boring).
So, spend more time making the letter inspirational and donor-focused, and less time changing the word “that” to the word “which.” Make the skimmable pieces matter. Use good graphics. And ask for something meaningful.
Oh, and never create a letter by committee. It’s wordsmithing hell.
8. Long meetings
I have a friend who said to me once “if you can’t get it done in an hour, you need to rethink the purpose of the meeting.”
He’s right. His point is that long meetings that meander and are unfocused are crazy unproductive.
Be clear about the outcome you’re looking for from the meeting. Have the right people there. Stay on task. Get finished. Then chit-chat later.
9. Binder activities
Another favorite of mine (insert even bigger eye roll than before).
A binder activity requires you to do a lot of work to create a plan of some sort that goes into a notebook and sits on a shelf to gather dust. Once it lands on the shelf, you never look at it again.
Talk about a waste of time!
Plans are not made to be filed away. They’re meant to be used.
In order for a roadmap to be useful, you have to look at it regularly to make sure you stay on course.
Same thing with your plan.
Commit to using it or don’t bother with the process of creating it. An unused plan means that the time you spent to create it was wasted.
10. Nickel-and-dime fundraising
You can work really, really hard on fundraising and only bring in a tiny bit of money.
For example, lots of restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings have charity nights.
You know how it works – You ask people to eat at BWW on a specific night and tell their server they’re supporting your nonprofit. Then the restaurant gives a portion of the proceeds to you.
Seems like a good thing, but it’s not.
You can spend a TON of time promoting it and spreading the word, and barely make a couple of hundred dollars.
You’ll never fully fund your nonprofit with fundraising like this. It’s not sustainable. You’re working too hard. The ROI is too low.
Stop doing anything (especially events) that don’t bring in enough to be worth the squeeze. You need more than nickels and dimes to fund your programs.
Think bigger. Pick one event and pour all your energy into it. You’ll raise more money.
My challenge to you:
Your mission, should you choose to accept it – create more time in your day that you can be thinking, planning, connecting with donors, and raising more money.
Cue the Mission Impossible music
- Look through this list of time wasters.
- Think about where you might be losing valuable time in your day to things that just aren’t worth it.
- Pick 1 and stop doing it.
- Feel panicky that you’ve let something go. Sing a chorus of ‘Let It Go’ (or not).
- Feel better when you realize you can now do something more substantial to raise money.
- Drop me a note and let me know how it’s going.
One of the best ways to get work done for your nonprofit is with extra hands.
Think about it: You’re one person. You can only do so much.
There’s a limit to the amount of work you can do during the day.
And I’m really sure you have more to do than you can get done.
So, you have choices. You can
a) Work yourself ragged trying to do it all yourself (not a great solution)
b) Just ignore all the stuff that needs to get done (yeah, right!)
c) Get help
I vote for C.
Help can come in many forms. You can recruit volunteers or find interns. For lots of things, you can use a fundraising committee.
Don’t groan – I’ve got some good stuff here. 😉
What makes a successful committee
Committees are a great way to involve a lot of people to get things done.
When it’s working, people’s skills are being used, meetings are productive and folks leave energized.
When it doesn’t work, meetings drag on, conversations go off-topic and nothing gets accomplished. It’s not fun and people tend to stop showing up for meetings.
So, how do you create a successful committee?
Start by getting clear and answering these questions:
- What’s the specific purpose of the committee? Be very clear about what the committee will do (and won’t do). Is the committee meant to plan and execute a special event? Acknowledge donors? Something else? Put the purpose in writing so you can hand it to the committee members.
- What’s the lifespan of the committee? What’s the start and end date for the committee’s work? Or will it go on indefinitely? Hint: people are more likely to say “yes” when they know when their work will be completed.
- How many committee members will there be? Will there be lots of people to help or just a few? By the way, the more people there are, the more likely people are to not feel engaged and even drop out. I like 6 to 10 people on a committee, especially for planning an event.
- Who will lead the committee? By recruiting a committee chair, you’ll get help in forming the committee and recruiting members. That person will set the tone for the group and provide leadership along the way, so choose wisely! Sometimes a great committee chair will appear and other times it’s like pulling teeth to find one. Just don’t give up. The committee won’t function well without a leader.
- What decisions can the committee make and implement? Will the committee be authorized to spend money? Can they agree to things on behalf of the organization, like hiring a band or reserving a ballroom? Be clear with them on this one so they don’t try to do things they shouldn’t.
- Who will the committee report to? Staff? Board? Another committee?
- Will the committee make progress reports? If so, what format will they be in? If you want a committee report at the Board meeting, who will be the committee’s representative? Or can they submit the report in writing instead of in person.
- How will the committee measure success? This relates back to the purpose of the committee. If it’s to run a special event, then success will be measured in dollars raised and attendance. And maybe sponsorships secured.
Okay, so that’s what makes a committee successful. Now let’s look at what causes them to fail.
Reasons why committees fail
You’ve probably been part of a committee where you were miserable. I certainly have. And it’s no fun.
Let’s look at some reasons why committees fall short.
- Lack of clarity. When no one is clear what a committee is meant to do, conversations can wander and people leave meetings feeling nothing really got accomplished. Tip: don’t let the committee itself figure out its job. Set it for them.
- Lack of commitment. People sometimes say “yes” to serving on a committee without really committing to participating, and their behavior proves it – their attendance at meetings will be sporadic and they may agree to take on tasks yet never complete them. It’s frustrating to other committee members when this happens, and it impedes the committee’s progress.
- Weak leadership. When the committee chair doesn’t have good leadership skills, the committee will flounder. People will tend to insert their own agenda and someone may even try to take over.
- Bait-and-switch. This happens when you create a committee to work on a project, then you override their decisions, leaving them feeling defeated and powerless. I guarantee you the members will all disappear and not come back!
Tips for making committees work
Committees are not created equally – some are great and a lot of fun to serve on, and others bore you to tears. Be purposeful in what you’re putting together and hold an intention to make it as good as it can be for everyone involved.
Here are some tips for making committees successful:
- Give new members an orientation. Don’t just throw people in – set them up for success. Give them the tools they need to succeed and explain the who, what, when, and why of the committee.
- Create an agenda template for the committee. Give the committee an outline for their meetings to help them stay on track.
- Keep a list of action items. When someone agrees to take on a task, have someone make note of it, then after the meeting, share the entire action item list with the full committee. This helps people remember what they said they’d do and also puts a little peer pressure on them to actually get it done.
- Thank the members for their service. Regular acknowledgement and maybe even recognition can be powerful. A text, a handwritten note, and even “thank you all for your good work” at a meeting or two can go a long way. If the committee is planning an event, thank them at the event in front of everyone.
- Make it inclusive. Depending on the purpose of the committee, you may want to invite people from outside the organization to join in. Maybe there’s someone who attended the event last year and would love to help with the planning this year. Maybe there’s a donor who just mentioned that they’d love to get more involved who would be perfect for your committee. Think outside the box so you don’t use the same people over and over (which leads to burnout).
- Make it fun. The more fun it is, the more people will participate, and they more they’ll enjoy their experience (which means they may do it again!). If appropriate, have a glass of wine at your meeting. Have the meeting onsite at your facility if that helps. Do whatever makes it more fun that just sitting in a board room.
What would you add? Click the comment link and share your experiences with good (or bad) committees.